The Most Overused Words in AEC Industry Writing

June 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

Immersed in the real estate and AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) worlds, every day I read industry press releases and other marketing-related content. There are a few specific words that have stuck out over the years, and at this point, they are overused and have become, sadly, rather meaningless.

Part of this issue stems from fact that today’s readers (including the reporters and editors receiving these press releases) prefer brief content, and companies tend to default to buzz words and industry jargon that “packs a punch” in an effort to cast a wider net while painting a grander picture. However, especially in the architecture, construction and real estate industries, the content – usually about projects – needs to create a visual for the reader, and the use of certain words (that we see over and over again) hinders this message delivery.

A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal declared “innovation” the most overused word in business writing, noting that it’s “in danger of becoming a cliché—if it isn’t one already.” Today, I think it is.

Around the same time, Business Wire compiled the most common buzzwords out of 16,000 press releases over a month-long period. “Solution” ranked number one.

In addition, some words are just plain overused in AEC and real estate writing. These include: “world-class,” “state-of-the-art,” “green,” “sustainable,” “cutting edge” and “premier.”

I didn’t use a fancy computer-generated tally system, but the repetition of these words in my daily life is why they are so easily identifiable – and make me cringe. While it’s impossible to eliminate all of the buzzwords and clichés, it’s important to limit this jargon because the ubiquitous nature of these words causes readers’ eyes to glaze over and the point is lost – if it was ever really there.

What does a “premier” company or “state-of-the-art” project really mean? I would hope a new project or renovation would result in a high-quality outcome, thus aren’t all of them state-of-the-art? The problem is that so many industry press releases use these words to describe their company or project, but we still don’t have an understanding of the company or project, its importance, or its impact in marketplace.

These days, “green” and “sustainable” are among the biggest offenders! It is critical to explain what makes a project green or no one will believe you. And it has to go beyond low-flow toilets and no VOC paints.

I suggest thinking like an editor – ask yourself: what is newsworthy about this project? – to fight the urge to use these words. There’s a fine line between too little information that, while brief, doesn’t tell you anything and too much content that results in losing your audience. It’s important to highlight what makes the project as innovative and world-class as claimed by describing the most compelling design features (Green roof? Glass elevators? Historical preservation?), construction delivery processes (Design-build? Technology usage? Self-perform?), and final outcome impact on its users and the surrounding community (Creating new jobs? Tenant expansion? Collaborative work spaces?).

This way, the reader gets a clear picture of what makes this “world class” building “innovative”, and you communicate the message you intended.

Melinda Hepp

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Entry filed under: AEC, Public Relations.

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